(Reprinted from The Ecologist, Vol. 29, October 1999)
Swedish scientists Lennart Hardell and Mikael Eriksson published a case-control study showing that non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) is linked to pesticide exposures. Harden and Eriksson published a prior study including phenoxy herbicides to NHL in 1981.1 NHL is a group of cancers that arise in the white blood cells. It is increasing rapidly right across the industrialized world. Between 1973 and 1991, the incidence of NHL increased at the rate of 3.3 per cent per year in the U.S., making it the third fastest-growing cancer in the country.2 In Sweden, the incidence has increased at the rate of 3.6 per cent per year in men and 2.9 per cent per year in women since 1958.
One of the herbicides linked to NHL by the most recent Hardell study is glyphosate, sold by Monsanto under the trade name Roundup. A previous study of human subjects in 1998 had implicated Roundup in hairy cell leukemia (cancer of the blood-forming organs), a rare kind of NHL.3 Several animal studies have shown that Roundup can cause gene mutations and chromosomal aberrations.4
Researchers in the U.S. and Canada announced that they had measured pesticides in the amniotic fluid of 30 per cent of a sample of nine pregnant women in Los Angeles, California.5 A baby growing in the womb floats in amniotic fluid for nine months before birth. The pesticide p,p1 DDE is a breakdown by-product of DDT and is known to interfere with male sexual development by de-activating the male sex hormone, testosterone. This is the first time that pesticides have been measured in amniotic fluid.
The U.S. Consumers’ Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, announced that many US fruits and vegetables carry pesticide residues that exceed the limits that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe for children. “Using U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics based on 27,000 food samples from 1994 to 1997, the magazine looked at foods children are most likely to eat,” the New York Times reported.’ “Almost all the foods tested for pesticide residues were within legal limits, but were frequently well above the levels EPA says are safe for young children. According to the Consumers’ Union report, even 1 serving of some fruits and vegetables can exceed safe daily limits for young children,” the New York Times reported.7
A U.S. study published in the science journal Environmental Health Perspectives makes the case that insecticides sprayed on forests in eastern Canada in the mid-1970s led to a dramatic decline in the population of Atlantic salmon (45 per cent reduction in small salmon, 77 per cent reduction in large salmon).6 Salmon are born in fresh water but after two or three years they undergo hormonal changes called smoltification, after which they move downstream into salt water. Researchers believe the pesticide interfered with smoltification, ldlling large numbers of fish.
- Harden, L. and Eriksson, M., “A Case-Control Study of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and Exposure to Pesticides,” Cancer, Vol. 85 No. 6 (15 March 1999), pp. 1353-1360.
- Harras, A. et al (eds.), Cancer Rates and Risks, 4th Edition, (NIH Publication No. 96-6911 (Bethesda, Maryland: National Cancer Institute, 996), p. 17.
- Nordstrom, M. et al. “Occupational exposure, animal exposure and smoking as risk factors for hairy cell leukaemia evaluated in a case-control study,” British Journal of Cancer, Vol. 77 (1998), pp. 2048-2052.
- Op. cit. 3.
- Foster, W., Chan, S., Platt, L., and Hughes, C.,” [P3-357] In Utero exposure of the human foetus to xenobiotic endocrine disrupting chemicals; detection of organochlorine compounds in samples of second trimester human amniotic fluid [abstract presented 14 June, 1999 at the endocrine Society’s 81st Annual Meeting in San Diego, California].” Available from The Endocrine Society, 4350 East West Highway, Suite 500, Bethesda
- Burros, M., “High pesticide levels seen in U.S. foods, New York Times, 19 February 1999.
- Fairchild, W. L. et al, “Does an association between pesticide use and subsequent declines in catch of Atlantic salmon represent a case of endocrine disruption?” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 107, No. 5 (May 1999).